Nanocarriers for safer breast cancer treatment
Patients who've gone through chemotherapy know that as effective as it may be, it also causes a lot of damage to otherwise healthy cells. The EU-funded NANOCARGO project has pushed a solution forward for breast cancer that would avoid such damage. This breakthrough could benefit the many thousands upon thousands of women in Europe who undergo treatment for breast cancer every year.
© Aliaksandr Marko, #338109732, source:stock.adobe.com 2020
The fact that one woman out of eight will be diagnosed with breast cancer before she turns 85 sends shivers down the spine. Certainly, treatments have evolved and the odds are much better now than they were decades ago. But drug resistance in tumour cells, lack of treatment specificity, toxicity for healthy organs or poor bioavailability of chemotherapeutic drugs are among the many issues that explain how deadly breast cancer still is.
Many researchers across Europe have engaged in efforts to find better treatments, and Nanasaheb Thorat is one of them. With EU funding under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship project NANOCARGO and under the supervision of Joanna Bauer, assistant professor at Wrocław University of Science and Technology, Thorat has been devising an innovative approach capable of specifically targeting and destroying cancer cells in vivo. So innovative in fact, that the team recently won the Innovation Radar 2020 Grand Prix for their work.
What we propose is a unique solution that enhances therapy efficiency, Thorat explains. We combine magneto-plasmonic nanoparticles with biologically active and therapeutic agents into a multifunctional hybrid nanocarrier (HNC). From there, we simultaneously use three complementary and synergetic therapeutic approaches to target cancer cells. These consist of magnetic hyperthermia, photothermal therapy and targeted drug delivery directly to the tumour.
From diagnostic and therapeutics to theranostics
This new diagnostics/therapeutics approach, which Bauer calls theranostics, innovates essentially by realising the long-fantasised vision of Paul Ehrlich, one of the fathers of chemotherapy. In 1908, Ehrlich had hoped that chemotherapeutic drugs should go directly to their cell-structural targets without harming healthy tissues. Thanks to nanotechnology and more specifically NANOCARGOs nanocarriers, such treatment is now within close reach.
Our multifunctional HNCs are minimally invasive. They can deliver the drugs to the tumour in a controlled way, precisely at the right time and dosage needed by the patient. Once this is done, they can provide a diagnosis by increasing the visibility of cancer cells in multiple imaging modalities. This way, we can monitor the therapy outcomes in real-time, says Bauer.
To activate the nanocarriers, the research team use a physical energy stimulus to overheat the tumour and destroy it. Thanks to their extensive research, they uncovered that magnetic (activated by a magnetic field) and plasmonic (activated by light) nanocarriers were the best possible candidates. As Bauer points out: A localised plasmonic excitation (using an infrared laser) and a magnetic field actuation can cause a local drug release that will destroy the tumorous tissues without affecting the surrounding healthy environment.
The path to patient treatment in a clinical setting is still long, but NANOCARGO succeeded in all of its objectives. The project team could demonstrate their photomagnetic active HNCs to target cancer, as well as the controlled release of therapeutic drug or biological agents under magnetic and light stimulation.
According to the marketing data, the drug discovery and development process may take up to 12-15 years and costs up to EUR 1.1 billion. Only five out of 10 000 compounds tested are eligible for clinical trials in humans, and usually only one of the initial 10 000 candidates is approved for use in patients. This goes to show how much effort we still have to put into this research, but the results we obtained are certainly very promising, Thorat concludes.